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Peter Travers’ Dozen Must-See Summer Movies

Plus: Five unheralded gems – and five more to skip

For me, summer movies usually offer less to anticipate and more to dread. Hey, it's Michael Bay's favorite time to do his unbeatable worst. Using the lamest excuse ("We just want to entertain"), Hollywood studios dump acres of sequel/prequel/remake garbage. Remember last summer? For every Toy Story 3 there was a crap chip off the block of Twilight or Iron Man or Karate Kid or Sex and the City. For every original work like Inception, there was a Knight and Day or Jonah Hex or Killers or – Adam Sandler be damned – Grown Ups. This summer, I offer up a dozen movies that at least show promise, five that fill me with horror and five goodies that come in under the radar.

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Summer’s Golden Dozen, #2: ‘Super 8’

In Theaters: June 10th

Another original, this one from J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Mission Impossible 3, TV's landmark Lost), a director who's nearly as secretive as Terrence Malick. No matter. Abrams carved this blend of humor and horror out of two boys growing up in Ohio, circa 1979. There's a train wreck, a Super 8 film of it, and then. . . . Why spoil the surprise. There are precious few of those around in summer.

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Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Summer’s Golden Dozen, #3: ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’

In Theaters: July 15th

OK, Part 1 was really just a stylish throat clearing. But this is the final chapter in the Harry Potter saga with young wizards Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) growing up into a life outside of Hogwarts. Plus, there's the great Alan Rickman, as Snape, seizing the role he was born to play and bring to fruition. J.K. Rowling left her seven Potter novels in the best Hollywood hands.

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Courtesy of Relativity Media

Summer’s Golden Dozen, #4: ‘The Hangover Part II’

In Theaters: May 26th

I know I bitch a lot about the plague of sequels. And the word on this one is that director Todd Phillips has just moved Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis from the Vegas of Part I to the Thailand of Part II and hit "recycle." For some reason, mostly Galifianakis, this doesn't bother me a bit.

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Ben Glass courtesy of Warner Bros.

Summer’s Golden Dozen, #5: ‘Crazy Stupid Love’

In Theaters: July 29th

If you think good rom-coms are easy to make, catch the horrors of Something Borrowed, Arthur and Your Highness, and eat your words. Crazy Stupid Love stars Steve Carell as a divorced man, stung by the infidelity of wife Julianne Moore, and taking lessons in how to date again from studly Ryan Gosling. That's right, Gosling, putting aside the heavy lifting of Blue Valentine and acing it in a comedy. Be there or be crazy stupid yourself.

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Courtesy of DreamWorks

Summer’s Golden Dozen, #6: ‘The Help’

In Theaters: August 12th

The bestseller, by Kathryn Stockett, that you catch every woman reading on trains, planes and beaches becomes a movie firecracker that touches a universal chord. The ever-surprising Emma Stone plays Skeeter, the young wannabe writer who finds her defining theme in the relationships between African-American maids and their white employers in 1960s Mississippi. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer should expect Oscar attention.

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Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures

Summer’s Golden Dozen, #7: ‘Cowboys & Aliens’

In Theaters: July 29th

If it doesn't fall on its fat-budget ass, this sci-fi/western might just make a difference in a summer when you think you've seen everything before, and probably have. Imagine John Wayne having a close encounter of the third kind and you'll get some idea of what 1875 cowpokes Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford face when aliens invade their sagebrush territory. Director Jon Favreau wants to be very, very afraid.

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Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Summer’s Golden Dozen, #8: ‘Bad Teacher’

In Theaters: June 24th

Billy Bob Thornton was so effing funny in 2003's Bad Santa that I'm surprised it took Hollywood so long to find a movie to besmirch the good name of teachers. Cameron Diaz plays the educator from moral hell, the boozing, toking, sexing fantasy of every 7th-grade boy who wished he had a bombshell like this at the blackboard. Justin Timberlake (Diaz's ex) plays a substitute teacher who doesn't know what he's in for.

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Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Summer’s Golden Dozen, #9: ‘X-Men: First Class’

In Theaters: June 3

Prequels to hit franchises usually suck. Remember the Star Wars the Early Days, trilogy? Ugh! But It have hopes for X-Men given the talents involved. James McAvoy as the young Professor Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Magneto have the stuff to give Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen a run at their iconic roles. Hey, it worked with Star Trek.

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Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Summer’s Golden Dozen, #10: ’30 Minutes or Less’

In Theaters: August 12th

Like I've been saying, originality wins points. This comedy reteams Jesse Eisenberg with his Zombieland director Reuben Fleischer and makes me hope for the best. I liked Zombieland – you got a problem with that? Eisenberg de-Zuckerbergs to play a pizza delivery guy who gets involved with a nutjob (Danny McBride) who hires a hitman to kill his dad.

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Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Summer’s Golden Dozen, #11: ‘Cars 2’

In Theaters: June 24th

See, I never thought the first Cars got the props it deserved. People always put it low on the list of Pixar classics. Not me. So I'm jazzed to see this sequel, with John Lasseter directing a story of Lightning McQueen (voiced again by Owen Wilson) as he enters the World Grand Prix and races in Japan, England and Italy. Look, if The Hangover Part II can move its talent to Thailand, why can't Cars see the world, too? Just sayin'.

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Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Summer’s Golden Dozen, #12: ‘Green Lantern’

In Theaters: June 17

OK, I have my doubts. Ryan Reynolds makes an amiable hunk accessory for Sandra Bullock (The Proposal), but play a superhero out of DC Comics? Don't care that RR was Deadpool in that X-Men spinoff, Wolverine. I'm still worried. The role of Hal Jordan, the fighter pilot who becomes the first human ever selected to join the Green Lantern Corps, has challenges. Still, I get a good vibe that Geoffrey Rush is doing the voice work for the computer-generated Tomar-Re, the bird-beaked Yoda for Hal. And director Martin Campbell kicked ass refreshing the James Bond franchise with Casino Royale. So maybe. What are your thoughts?

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Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.

Five With a Bad Vibe, #4: ‘Friends With Benefits’

In Theaters: July 22

Mila Kunis plays an exec who thinks she and employee Justin Timberlake can just have hot sex without getting emotionally involved. Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher tried that in the godawful No Strings Attached and look where that got them. Why make us all suffer again?

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Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Under the Radar, #1: ‘Another Earth’

In Theaters: July 22nd

Remember the name Brit Marling. With director Mike Cahill, she co-wrote the screenplay of this sci-fi brainteaser that achieves miracles on a shoestring. Marling gives a stunning performance as an astrophysicist who precipitates a tragedy just as she discovers a planet that is really a duplicate Earth.

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Under the Radar, #3: ‘A Better Life’

In Theaters: June 24th

Demián Bichir, Mary Louise Parker's love interest on Weeds, gives one of the year's best performances as a Mexican gardener working illegally in Los Angeles and trying to keep his teen son (Jose Julian) away from gang life. Director Chris Weitz, a long way from the vacuous bloodsucking of Twilight: New Moon, creates a haunting movie that gets under your skin. Powerful work.

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Under the Radar, #4: ‘Bellflower’

In Theaters: August 5th

Here's a truly experimental film, a real flamethrower that explodes with the energy of fearless young talent. Writer-director Evan Glodell even built the hi-def camera that recorded the film's hallucinatory images. Bellflower, about two friends — Glodell and Tyler Dawson — who dream of creating their own Mad Max apocalypse, practically jumps off the screen.

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Courtesy of Lionsgate

Under the Radar, #5: ‘The Devil’s Double’

In Theaters: July 29th

Brit actor Dominic Cooper delivers a tour de force playing two roles – Uday Hussein, the psychopath son of the Iraqi dictator, and Latif, the working-class dupe who gets coerced into playing body double for a monster everyone wants to kill. Director Lee Tamahori generates tremendous excitement, tearing into every scene, with Cooper as his match. If there's such a thing as an art-house action blockbuster, The Devil's Double is it.

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